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Havok, 12 p.m. This four-piece band sounded like classic Bay Area thrash, stuff reminiscent of Testament and Exodus with a splash of Anthrax. The guitar work owed a clear debt to a death metal influence, and the vocalist's wail and singing was akin to that of Tom Araya circa Show No Mercy and Reign In Blood. Over halfway through the set, Havok performed a fairly faithful cover of "Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden -- after asking if anyone liked Iron Maiden and getting two responses. These guys didn't miss a beat, and while it's not often the style of music I enjoy anymore, when a band is this energetic, enthusiastic and showing high spirits (despite playing early in the day for a rock show), you can't help but like them.
Verdict: Havok makes thrash seem relevant again, and that's not so easy to do.
Spare the Legion, 1 p.m. Spare the Legion's melodic, quieter bridges, slipped between sections of hellfire thrash, were a bit nü metal for my taste, but it didn't keep the band from being essentially likable. In fact, it sounded like Legion had more in common with Slipknot, in that the music was relentlessly aggressive, had some time to breathe, and didn't indulge in clumsily incorporating elements of hip-hop or heavy emo, except with the bass player kicking in a harmony here and there. The solos were a little wanky but never ridiculous. The singer joked with the audience between songs and was actually funny instead of awkward and lame. Legion's set closed with a song called "Tears of Tomorrow."
Verdict: Good stage presence + humorous rapport with the audience = a band worth seeing. I could have done without the nü metal affectations but if these guys like that element, stick with what works.
Black Lamb, 2 p.m.
This group of guys is probably lumped in with metal by default, even though Black Lamb's music is at least as much something else. What I saw was five guys kicking out hard rock with a little heavier-than-usual riffing and a tinge of psychedelia informing the solos. After a furious introductory song, wild-eyed frontman Brian Hagman said, "It can only get better from here," and they proceeded to prove that statement right. This band is always at least good, but this performance was tighter than I've seen them be in a long time and they seemed to be having fun. I knew the Lamb was doing something right when it was obvious that a number of women were in the audience and they weren't girlfriends of guys in the band.
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Verdict: These guys always get called "stoner rock," but they've kind of evolved beyond that, and the Lamb kindly doesn't go in for fourteen-minute, doomy epics. Instead, they treat us to catchy, trippy and dark rock and roll.
Enemy Reign, 3 p.m. Right away, the singer irked me, by grabbing some of my stuff (which was right in front of me) and moving it to the side, without asking, in order to clear room for some imagined pit that never really happened. Normally that would make me walk out and write the band off completely. But I saw someone on bass that looked familiar: Cassie Begay, formerly of Throat Culture and Deadspeak. So I decided to give them another chance, because Cassie doesn't seem to waste her time with stupid projects. And yes, Enemy Reign ended up being an excellent death-metal act. The rhythm section was fantastic. I was particularly impressed with the drummer pulling off brutal blast beats with only one kick drum. The guitar player laid down melodically aggressive, slashing riffs, and Enemy Reign finished with its best, most intense song, "Isolate." As the song was ending, Sherwood Webber, Reign's singer, made good on a promise earlier in the set to pick a fan up and send him crowd surfing.
Verdict: Giving a band a chance despite one of its member's having a moment of incivility is often worthwhile. Webber is a commanding frontman in a group of utterly solid musicians.
Adai, 4 p.m.
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This performance happened outside because of some misunderstanding with whether the bands would get to use their own gear inside. Luckily it wasn't raining. However, this was the completely instrumental version of the band. With just two people, Adai unleash a good deal of noise. Devin's guitar sounds like he's playing both bass and guitar at once, and between him and Justin, a bright but thick sound flows like a slow-moving river of magma find its way down the side of a volcano. Adai had proggy structures but none of the gratuitously jarring time-signature changes that seem to plague far too many prog metal bands. These guys created fantastic atmospheric passages that reminded me a bit of The Eye of Every Storm-era Neurosis or even a more arch and aggressive Jesu.
Verdict: There is a majestic beauty to Adai's music that sets it apart from most of its peers playing metal music.
To Be Eaten, 6 p.m. You can't really go wrong with a To Be Eaten show. The band's new drummer, Justin Trujillo, really had to prove himself, and he was more than able and worthy. With every song, the trio hurtled itself into the music with an inspiring ferocity. The crowd responded in kind with a crazy pit that sent members of the audience hurtling into the drum set and other members of the band, causing some delays. But instead of complaining, bassist Eric Fuller stood in front of the drum kit for part of Eaten's savage set that included "Metal" and "End of a Flight." At one point, it looked like one of the guitar stacks got knocked over and in true To Be Eaten fashion, it was set back up and the show went on and ended with "Burn the Filth" -- a song whose melodic ending is the sound of triumph over the forces of oppression.
Verdict: To Be Eaten plays its music with absolute conviction and the quality of its songwriting transcends genre.